The groundswell of organized retail crime is a national issue that risks spreading local law enforcement thin. While the American public sees headlines of smash-and-grab robberies or watches shock-inducing footage of their favorite retailers left ransacked and wrecked, it’s our local police forces that are left to pick up the pieces.
Almost 70 percent of storefronts have reported an increase in theft this past year, and the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail estimates that organized retail crime accounts for $45 billion in annual retail losses. In one instance alone in February 2021, a group brazenly grabbed handbags worth $165,000 from the shelves of a Chanel store in New York in a daytime robbery.
Why the sudden spike in crime sprees over the past couple of years? Historically, organized retail crime tends to increase in challenging times. According to U.S. court statistics, retail theft skyrocketed by 16 percent after 9/11 and by 30 percent during the 2008 recession. It’s no surprise that we are seeing a similar, albeit accelerated, trend amid the protracted pandemic and crippling inflation.
But what makes this current organized retail crime wave more pervasive and problematic than ever is where these stolen goods may end up once they are swiped from store shelves. Gone are the days of pawning stolen merchandise on street corners and flea markets; criminals are turning to the anonymity of the internet to peddle their loot. Stolen items are showing up on the virtual marketplaces that consumers traffic on a daily basis, seamlessly fitting in with honest online storefronts and businesses.
That’s why federal legislation such as the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers, or INFORM Consumers Act, could be a valuable and essential tool. It’s the least Congress can do to support law enforcement online as they continue to work to combat organized retail crime. The bill requires online marketplaces to clearly disclose contact information of certain high-volume, third-party sellers to consumers and provide consumers with ways to report suspicious marketplace activity. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would have authority to enforce the requirements.